5 D&D Campaign Ideas and Pitches for Your Classic 5e Campaign

Since we got so much great feedback on our last Campaign Pitch article, I figured we’d go ahead and spin off some more ideas, focusing this time on the classic D&D experience. By that, I mean, a big quest with big stakes.

No one likes to be thought of as uncreative. This goes double for people who pour their heart and soul into a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Streamed campaigns like Critical Role have kind of put the expectation of drama, twists, and turns into an up-and-coming generation of players, and that expectation can weigh heavily on a new Dungeon Master. How are they supposed to live up to that standard? What if their players aren’t wowed? What if they don’t think you’re creative enough to sit in that seat?

First of all, don’t be so hard on yourself. This game is fun. If you let it be a source of anxiety, it’s not fun. Second of all, your players are getting to play Dungeons and Dragons, so it can’t be all bad.

Creativity is one of those things that people think is the be-all end-all of DMing, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. Get a little closer to the screen. People love the familiar. Think of it this way: do you have a favorite movie or tv show? How many times have you watched it? Now, maybe you need a break from it every now and again, but don’t you love revisiting those characters and situations? When you’re sick and in need of comfort, don’t you turn back to some familiar favorites from time to time? When you were a kid, wasn’t there that one VHS cassette that you watched until the tape-deck couldn’t keep the tracking straight and then–wow, it’s just dawned on me that I’m old.

Okay. Look. Here’s the bottom line, upfront. Classics are classics for a reason. There are some situations and setups that just feel right with Dungeons and Dragons. You all start in a tavern. The Smith’s Daughter has been kidnapped by goblins. The Orcs are invading from the East, seeking the bearer of an ancient artifact of their master.

Classics are not bad. Clichés handled carefully are still fun. With that in mind, let me drop a couple Campaign Pitches for you. If anything resonates with you, pitch them to your players. Maybe you can build a new Classic.

Once a Hero

Generations ago, a great hero rose from humble beginnings and overthrew a tyrant. Battling the wicked king’s sadistic legionnaires, horrifying monsters, and things from other planes of reality, they won through to strike down the mad tyrant and usher in a century of peace. But in doing so, the hero was dealt a mortal blow. According to prophecy, they will return, however, just when the world needs them most. The Tyrant has returned, his madness infects the land, and his army stands ready to sweep over the world. A piece of cryptic map is thrust into your hands by your mentor who whispers desperately, “Find the hero.” You all meet in a tavern…

Politics – Low
Roleplay – Medium
Combat – Medium
Magic – Medium
Lethality – Medium

Buy-in: Firstly, I need a mentor from each of you. What does your piece of map show? What kind of strange riddle does it hold? This is a little Dungeon World-y, I know, but I think if you guys throw some nonsense to get my brain going onto your piece of map, this will end up being a better time. Lastly, I think this story lends itself well to unlikely, but willing heroes. If you can tell your mentor to get bent, you need to rethink your character.

Returning the Light

It happened late in the night. The Church doors were broken, the attendant clerics slain. Nothing of value seemed to be taken at first glance. Rich tapestries, golden chalices, a wealth of offerings in the offertory, all seemingly discarded. Until the Light of Andor, physical proof of the pact between the world and the sun, was found missing from the mosaic on the wall before the pulpit, it seemed as though it was a random act of violence. Before it was stolen, only the High Priest, the King, and the Court Wizard even knew that the magical Amulet was any more than a myth. By the King’s command, you are summoned to retrieve the Light of Andor and return it before its radiance is turned toward evil, and darkness swallows the world.

Politics – Medium
Roleplay – Medium
Combat – High
Magic – Low
Lethality – Medium

Buy in: So, for our session zero, I am going to put a couple of options in front of you as to what your first clue on the path to reclaiming this amulet is going to be. If the testimony of a survivor that points to the ravening undead sounds cool, we can do that. If it’s a goblin arrow, we can do that. Basically, I want to know what kind of beastie we want to go after, and then we’ll spin it off from there. No reason to hunt boring baddies, right?

Survivor’s Warning

Grengolen was a fine town. It was quiet. Out on the border at the edge of the great forest, where the maps get hazy, no one come troubling people. The only worries we had were another weak harvest, or the carter coming late, or Old Sam running short on his brown ale. I still don’t know who it was who came screaming out of the forest with fire and sword. It all happened so fast. I just know that we left Grengolen with the clothes on our backs, fires at our heels, and the smell of blood in the air. I know that High Spear, and help, is ten days hard ride down the road. I know they–whoever they are– are not far behind us.

Politics – High
Roleplay – Medium
Combat – High
Magic – Medium
Lethality – High

Buy in: So I need to know what you were doing in Grengolen. If you all want to make villagers with class levels, that’s cool. I’ll also take a military patrol or heroes in the wrong place at the wrong time. But I need you guys to care that this little town got laid to waste, because you’re the only ones who know about it. I need you to understand that based on how you handle yourselves, it could easily happen again. Soon.

A Pound of Cure

It started with the beggars, and no one noticed. It struck the madmen, and no one cared. It killed the poor in their beds, and no one wondered why. By the time the City of Cann noticed the predator in their midst, it was too late to take up arms. Their fine swords couldn’t slay it anyway. The Shatterheart Fever has only one cure, and it lies in the Panaceum Argentum, the flower the wise-women call the Mistdrop. But our fine city and all of our progress has eradicated the Mistdrop near Cann. We must travel further afield if we are to find the flower. Back to the lands of our forefathers, the wild and savage east.

Politics – Medium
Roleplay – Medium
Combat – Medium
Magic – Low (If Cure Disease exists and works on everything, we don’t have much of a campaign here.)
Lethality – Low

Buy in: This might be a little too soon to run a Plague campaign, I’ll grant, but I think a ticking clock coupled with a hex-crawl makes for a tense campaign. What I need from you are people who have expertise (not the class ability) in this kind of thing. People who would travel and explore and yet still care about this big city full of people dying. Biting off on legends, plumbing through old fortresses for forgotten gardens, facing down mythical beasts all for a flower? That’s not for everyone. Bring me someone who’d do it.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Imagine that our world is a walled garden. Strong bricks, stacked tall and encircling a place of relative calm and safety in a tumultuous and dangerous reality. Now imagine, friends, that the ivy has been left to grow too long. The winters have frozen over the faces of those bricks and now they crack. Things peer through the cracks and wait for the walls to crumble entirely. We have brick and mortar, if you’ll permit me to abuse the metaphor a bit longer. We can repair the walls that keep our garden peaceful. But you have to build a wall from both sides.

Politics – High
Roleplay – High
Combat – Medium
Magic – High
Lethality – Low

Buy in: A plane-hopping campaign with some dangerously high magic has to sound cool. There’s going to be a lot of “in-over-our-head” politicking, because a lot of factions are going to want to see what happens when the walls come down, or else they don’t believe in the walls at all. Prepare to be up against forces cosmic and mundane every step of the way. If you haven’t been bouncing around the multiverse, trying to put a stop to the fusing of planes of reality, it’s an experience.

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